I don’t really know how to do this, so I’m just gonna say it: 3DS, I love you. I’ve known it for quite some time—you probably have, too—but I’ve been afraid to admit it. And I’ve been afraid of what my SNES might say. I guess I’m just having trouble accepting that it can get any better than 16-bit. But there’s just something so wonderful about you. About the adventures we’ve shared. About the ways you’ve encouraged me to move forward in life while making sure I never forget the people and places that defined my past. And your games…how could anyone not love your games?
But we’re getting off topic. This isn’t about what other people think, or what they’re playing. It’s about you and me. 3DS, I love you. Let me count the ways.
Past In My Pocket
God knows I spend enough time obsessing over my lost childhood, but I don’t think it’s possible to understand how much you mean to me without hearing a little bit about the journey that led me to you. See, I’ve already admitted that the SNES was my greatest gaming love until you came along, but it was hardly my first. Despite my early exposure to Burger Time and Lock ‘n Chase on Mattel’s wood-paneled Intellivision console, it wasn’t until 1988 when video games would really begin to sink their claws into me. I was five years old, and my estranged grandmother had just sent me and my sister a most unexpected gift: a Nintendo Entertainment System, along with copies of Super Mario Bros and The Legend of Zelda and a subscription to Nintendo Power. I had no way of knowing this at the time, but it was a gift that would change my life forever.
Back then, my family got one, maybe two new games a year, and so my sister and I played Mario and Zelda so many times that we could practically beat them blindfolded. When I wasn’t playing, I was reading each new issue of Nintendo Power backwards and forwards, losing myself in the amazing spread of new and upcoming NES games and fantasizing about which one I might get for Christmas, or maybe my birthday. We were hardly the only kids on our block with an NES, so it wasn’t like I didn’t have opportunities to play new games from time to time, but we were all lower middle class stock, and there was only so much any of our parents could afford. So you can imagine my shock when I discovered that my grandmother, who lived in a tiny motorhome in the Palm Desert, owned pretty much every NES game ever made.
From arcade classics like Donkey Kong and Wrecking Crew to more modern adventures like Ninja Gaiden and Super Mario Bros 2, I had an entire world of gaming at my fingertips whenever my family made that drive out to the desert. I’ve come to realize since then that this was a deliberate and calculated tactic by my grandmother to get to see her daughter more; I’d get a taste of a game library the likes of which none of my friends had ever seen, and before we’d even finished the 500-mile drive back home, I’d be begging to go back as soon as possible. Decades earlier, their relationship had disintegrated after years of emotional and physical abuse… but as a child, I was oblivious to all of that. All I knew was, if I wanted to play a new game, my grandmother’s little house car in the desert was the place to do it.
They’re both long gone now. As is so often the way of things, their relationship was close to an all time low around the time of both of their deaths. But I’ll never forget that it was an attempt to mend the rift between them that led to my lifelong love of video games.
Now if my memories of the NES are forever tied to the drama between my mom and grandmother, it’s my dad who I’ll always associate the most with my next great gaming love: the Game Boy. As a seven-year-old in 1990, I’d saved up my weekly $1 allowance for five months before realizing I’d probably have a driver’s license before I could afford Nintendo’s portable machine… but once again, family intervened. I distinctly remember the day I got home from school after my last day of second grade, because after I handed my dad my final report card, he took one look at it, told me that hard work should always be rewarded, and drove me to Toys ‘R Us, where he bought me a brand new Game Boy. It was the very first video game system that belonged solely to me—the first thing more valuable than my brothers’ beat up, hand-me-down Star Wars action figures that I ever owned—and I’ll never forget that day as long as I live.
For me, the Game Boy was everything the NES was and more, because I could take it with me. Dad traveled regularly for work back then, and with my parents’ limited income, there wasn’t a lot of time left over for family vacations. As a compromise, he’d bring me and my mom along on business trips to places like Montana, or Idaho, or Alaska, and on days when he was tied up with work, mom would lounge by the hotel pool while I’d spend my free time in our room, hunched over my Game Boy. In those days, life was never better than when I was chasing high scores in Tetris, or piloting a submarine in Super Mario Land… or, during one such trip, making a surprise visit to KB Toys in Seattle and picking up what is still one of my favorite games—Metroid II: Return of Samus.
The Game Boy had my heart for more than a decade, with an unforgettable assortment of titles including Donkey Kong ’94, Wario Land, Pokémon Red, and The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening—my favorite Zelda game for two decades, until you gave me A Link Between Worlds in 2013. In fact, my eyes were glued to its dim, blurry screen for so long that I’m still surprised I’m not completely blind (though I’m lost without corrective lenses.) In 1998, the system evolved into a curvy, purple beauty that could render up to 56 colors at a time, and though most of my friends had moved on to the darker world of PlayStation, I’d continue to have a blast with Game Boy for years to come, with the system hosting truly excellent software like Warlocked, Shantae and the Zelda Oracle games before finally fading into history after the release of the Game Boy Advance in 2001.
3DS, I know you’re never going to let me play every NES or Game Boy game I grew up with, and your recently added SNES Virtual Console library will never reach the majesty of my collection of physical carts… but who can complain with pocket-friendly, pixel-perfect renditions of Super Metroid or Super Mario World or Zelda 3 or Earthbound? And that’s to say nothing of those 3D remakes of the Sega Genesis games I only ever got to play at a friend’s house growing up, or that holy trinity of N64 remasters that remind me how smoothly Nintendo transitioned into the third dimension in the mid-’90s. The point is, every single classic game in your catalog is tied to a moment in my life that I don’t ever want to forget, and so as long as I have you with me, I’ll always have a link to my past, right in my jacket pocket.
Mountain High, Valley Low
You’ve given me so many opportunities to reflect on my past, but we’ve also had some unforgettable experiences together in the here and now. Together, we’ve walked more than 1,600 miles. We’ve snapped glorious 3D selfies on the ruins of Machu Picchu. We’ve passed long, dark hours together in the jungles of the Amazon rainforest, hunting rare spiders in primordial trees at dusk and star coins in New Super Mario Bros. 2 at dawn. We’ve been to the top of the Empire State Building and to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. We’ve driven across the entire continental United States. We’ve StreetPassed 1,708 other 3DS lovers at E3, Comic Con, Gamers For Giving, Nintendo World Store, and on countless Amtrak commuter trains and New York City subways. Our journeys together have been far, and wide, and wonderful. You’ve been there for some of the best moments of my adult life, a constant reminder of how good my life really is.
But you’ve also been there during the not-so-great times. During that first unbearable summer in New York, when I didn’t have an air conditioner, a job, or any friends nearer than 2,838 miles away. During the long autumn that would follow, when a death in the family kept my wife on the other side of the world for an entire month and I was too depressed to leave my neighborhood. But thanks to you, I kept my mind occupied. I got my first ever perfect town rating in an Animal Crossing game. I discovered yet more secrets in Super Mario 3D Land—a game I’d already spent nearly 80 hours playing and replaying. I even finished The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages… something I’d never gotten around to doing when it was first released on the Game Boy Color. In a new city with more people in it than any other place in the United States, I failed miserably at making friends during that lonely season, but thanks to you, I never lost myself in my isolation. And I can’t thank you enough for that.
Hey, Are You Michael Burns?
You know, 3DS, I’d been writing about games for years before you came along, and not a single damn person noticed. But shortly after you flew into my life, everything changed. Funny enough, it wasn’t the countless reviews or editorials I’d written that first got the attention of editors I’d admired at the sites I’d grown up reading… it was a pair of sexy photos I posted to my 1UP blog, showing that with a little patience and some steady hands, you could dress up a North American 3DS to look just like any of the amazing 3DS variants released exclusively in Japan or Europe. Nintendo of America’s insistence that U.S. players didn’t want a white 3DS baffled me—hadn’t most of us been gaming on white DS Lites for the past five years? Still, their loss, my gain: Jeremy Parish, one of my game journo heroes, saw my photos, told me I was crazy, and the next thing I knew, his deskmate, IGN’s Sam Claiborn, was asking me to build a tutorial outlining the procedure for all the other crazy kids that wanted a white 3DS XL.
From there, I was only a couple of emails away from taking on freelance work for the biggest video game site in the history of the Internet, a period during which I met some amazing people and learned… well, more than I probably ever needed to know about what goes on behind the scenes in the video game industry. I’ll always be thankful for that time in my life—one that didn’t last as long as it could’ve only because I realized that kind of work couldn’t support the life I’d built for my family—but there’s one moment in the whole crazy ride that I’ll never forget: the time I’d stopped by a Nintendo demo event at a Best Buy to check out Super Mario 3D World, and a kid with a white 3DS XL, eying the identical-looking white 3DS XL in my hands, walked up to me and nervously asked if I was Michael Burns. Somehow, 3DS, you’d made me a kind of hero to a small but dedicated group of gaming enthusiasts, and I can never thank you enough for that.
3DS, I know I don’t have to say this, but you’ve got my favorite video game library of the past twenty years. You’ve got the best Mario, the best Zelda, the best Animal Crossing, and the best Fire Emblem games ever made, along with so many truly unforgettable originals: Attack of the Friday Monsters, Crashmo, Steamworld Dig, Steamworld Heist, Xeodrifter, Mutant Mudds, Shovel Knight, Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy, Stella Glow, Tomodachi Life… I could go on and on and on, but the point is, there’s no other game system I’d rather have shared these past five years with.
Video games are more than a simple plaything to me. They’re a way to connect to the people, the places, and the events of my life that were once locked in the past. They’ve been a constant through the ups and downs of my life, whether as a companion on my greatest adventures or as a simple comfort in my moments of deepest despair. And they’ve been a source of professional triumphs and unforgettable moments of connection with complete strangers that I never dreamed would be possible when I was a boy. And tying all of these moments together? It’s you, 3DS. It’s always been you.